TONICS - Why Musicians Should Laser Focus On Them...

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by AxemanVR, Sep 10, 2021.

  1. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    First a little pop quiz: What is a "Tonic"?


    a) A word that starts with the letter "T"?
    b) A word that has two syllables?
    c) A word that rhymes with "Sonic"?
    d) Something added to Gin?
    e) The Tonal Center of a piece of Music?
    f) None of the above?
    g) All of the above?


    If you answered (g) then you win a prize!!! Actually (sorry) you didn’t win diddly-squat, but, if the question were changed to "What is a Tonic as it relates specifically to music?" Then the correct answer would be:

    e) The Tonic signifies the Tonal Center of a piece of Music.

    All good stuff, but the real magic is in its very existence...

    The fact that something like a Tonic even exists is actually quite remarkable. Think about it; If you start with any pitch and then go up (or down) that same pitch repeats (at a higher or lower frequency). If this phenomenon never occurred, music as we know it would be absolutely impossible.

    I can’t emphasize enough how amazing and significant the Tonic is for creating the Music we all know and love. Read on if you find this intriguing...

    *...or skip down to the diagrams below if you don't want to risk being bored to death by this potentially mind-numbing analysis...


    ~~

    So, what does the term "Tonal Center" mean? Well, in my personal opinion, it is an idealized construct that we humans have devised in order to explain a phenomenon where a musical piece appears to gravitate around a single pitch or tone.

    There are several ways to describe how the Tonic "feels" when it is played:

    Stability
    Rest
    Focal point
    Finality
    Resolution
    Release
    Completeness

    While moving away from it can be described as:

    Loss
    Restlessness
    Uncertainty
    Desire
    Longing
    Tension
    Incompleteness


    One way we identify the Tonal Center (in a piece of music) is to simply state that a musician is playing in a certain "Key" - to which the Tonic is the main focal point. For instance, in the Key of C Major, the pitch "C" is the Tonic (of course, in the Key of C minor, the pitch "C" is also the Tonic).

    Certain "Scales" gravitate to the Tonic more than others, with the "Major Scale" having the strongest pull towards the Tonic.

    A "Cadence" describes how certain chord movements make a musical piece "resolve" (a "Dominant to Tonic" chord resolution for example).

    Scales (Melody) and Chords (Harmony) are two different constructs that still have one goal: To ultimately come to rest on the Tonic.

    Notice how I used the word "construct" twice to describe these musical ideas, because a "construct" in this case refers to "Music Theory", which is an amalgamation of ideas that provides a way to further understand and exploit something that we did not create (Sound), which in turn is used for something that we did create (Music). And Music, regardless of what we may believe, is "subjective". Therefore the "Construct of Music Theory" was developed to make subjective sounds align with our collective sensibilities.

    Before moving on, I need to clarify that Tonics are typically associated with Scales, but they can also be associated with chord progressions based on "scale degrees" that can define the "root movement" of chords in a progression.

    You see, while "Scales have Tonics", "Chords have Roots". The Root identifies the "base" note of the chord. A chord's Root is generally based on the notes derived from a given scale. Chords can have Tonics associated with them, if they are the "Tonic Chord" from a specific Key for example. In the Key of C Major, the C Major chord may be correctly labeled as being the “Tonic Chord”.

    If all this seems like gibberish to you, I suggest taking a look at my primer on Music Theory:


    INTERVALS explained - The Magical Unicorn World of Music Theory!


    So, Tonic vs Root. The reasoning for the difference is that (usually) every scale associated with a specific Key has a Tonic, while not every chord built from that same Key has that Tonic in it - but - most chords do have a Root (I said "most" because a Chord's Root can be "omitted" on occasion - which is an entirely different topic altogether). Anyway...

    Sorry if all that seems to be a bit too much, but the important point I'm trying to make is that a piece of Music and its Tonic may seem confined to follow some sort of predetermined recognizable standard, when, in fact, both the Music and the Tonic can also change direction and seemingly meander aimlessly as well - if we want it to. In other words, the sounds we use in music are still quite malleable, despite Music Theory's seemingly strict rules that govern it (rules that are often ignored or broken in order to get what we want).

    Shorter pieces of music usually follow certain patterns fairly closely, but longer more complex pieces can change its Tonal Center several times, causing confusion about where the Tonal Center is at any given moment. In other words, while music CAN be relatively simple (and most of the time it is) it can also be quite fluid and unpredictable if the composer chooses to make it that way.

    The reason I'm mentioning all this is to not only define what the Tonic is, but to especially make its importance understood, since people can find it difficult to keep track of where the Tonic is in a piece of music and, therefore, lose where the Tonal Center is while they're playing.

    So, to put it frankly, if a person can't keep track of where the Tonal Center is, then they will (unfortunately) always be somewhat lost...


    ~~


    What I'm really trying to impress upon everyone is how important it is to keep track of where to Tonic is while they're playing a piece of music, most particularly as it pertains to improvising - assuming one does not wish to be stuck in the same old rut forever.

    Here is a diagram showing six different scale patterns - do you see the similarities?:


    1 Tonics 4 scales.jpg


    They are obviously different scale patterns that share the same Tonic:


    2 Tonics G.jpg


    One way to look at this is: If you know where the Tonics are for any given pattern, then it's relatively easy to figure out where at least two other notes are - "One Before the Tonic" and "One After the Tonic", so if you find yourself in the middle of a solo, and you know where the Tonics are, then you have at least three notes to work with until you can figure out where you want to go from there!


    3 Tonics 4 scales ref.jpg


    Anyway, if you're looking for something to practice and you just can't seem to remember where the Tonics are in whatever Key you're working in, well, there you go! Work on the Tonics!!!


    I hope someone finds this to be useful...



    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2021
  2. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    `
    Here are all the Tonics, based on what is often referred to as "Western Music", available on a typical guitar that's set up using the most common "Standard Tuning":


    _001 Tonics A + A# Bb.jpg
    _002 Tonics B.jpg
    _003 Tonics C - C# Db.jpg
    _004 Tonics D - D# Eb.jpg
    _005 Tonics E.jpg
    _006 Tonics F - F# Gb.jpg
    _007 Tonics G - G# Ab.jpg


    While it may seem like a lot to memorize, I'd just start with one key at a time and work on that until it sticks.

    Try to picture the pattern in your head for each Tonic pattern. Starting low to high, Tonic patterns on a typical guitar look a little different depending on whether the "lowest pitched" Tonic of any given Key starts lower or higher on the 6th string.

    It also seems that people tend to have trouble remembering positions the further up the neck they go, so one can think in terms of "string+fret positions" if they have difficulty recalling certain positions. For instance, look at the A TONICS and, if you need to, start listing the problem positions something like A:2+10 (2nd String / 10th Fret)... or whatever works for you.

    Just remember that between the nut and 12th fret there will be at least 6 to 8 Tonics - at least one on each string - the 7th or 8th Tonic depends on whether it repeats on both the nut and the 12th fret or not (only "E" in Standard tuning will have 8 Tonics from the nut to the 12th fret).

    Anyway, when you look at it that way it doesn't seem so daunting...

    Good Luck!


    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2021
  3. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    Yes to all that but I find that the 3rd and whether it's maj or min is more determinant to the sound of the chord/scale/section/entire piece than the tonic.
    This is how I hear music. YMMV.
     
  4. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    `
    Sure, I totally agree - BUT - that is beyond the scope of this discussion, since I was also attempting to keep it as simple as possible.

    All I'm saying right now is "Look: Here's where all the "C" Tonics are (or "D" or "Eb" etc.)." as well as to promote the philosophy of "Learn it! Live it! Love it!" *(Hey, that should be on a plaque...).

    Anyway, an overly complex discussion that tries to explain "Major and minor" would have threatened to derail the entire point of this thread. I actually added a link in the first post for anyone interested in pursuing that knowledge. Besides, when you say "the 3rd", a "3rd to what?" I'd say a 3rd as it relates to a Tonic, wouldn't you agree?

    Anyway, over-emphasizing other notes surrounding the Tonic would undoubtedly complicate things to the point of completely missing the "MAIN point"; which is Focusing on one all-important pitch (the Tonic) and memorizing all of the positions it can be found on the fretboard...

    ...and, unfortunately for the 3rd, it plays second fiddle to the Tonic, since, without the Tonic there would be no 3rd.

    Like I said; "Live, Laugh and Love it!"...






    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2021
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  5. johnny k

    johnny k Poster Extraordinaire

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    Tonics ? as in gin and tonic ?

    I will show myself out.
     
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  6. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Good stuff. It will be interesting to see how readers here understand the concept of music theory. If you're going to invoke music theory, it would be good to know what music it applies to. For this reason, I'd like to see some examples of how it can be used to clarify our understanding.
     
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  7. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    ‘S
    I think it’s universally accepted that all “Western Music” share the same underlying principles.

    If you click on the link I provided in the first post of this thread you’ll find a detailed account outlining my personal take on how music theory can be most easily viewed.

    Here’s that link again:

    https://www.tdpri.com/threads/intervals-explained-the-magical-unicorn-world-of-music.1022664/

    I feel the approach I chose is unique in that it starts off focusing on “intervals”, which I believe provides a clearer path to understanding how both melody and harmony are structured (and therefore interact), which in turn hopefully demonstrates more effectively how closely related everything is.

    After all, I’m sure most people would agree that music certainly involves using more than one sound - so starting with two sounds and going from there makes perfect sense to me...


     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2021
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  8. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    I got nothing to add to this discussion but since Larry F has weighed in, it is on topic for me to ask him if he is familiar with Richard Norton, and his book Tonality in Western Culture? I found the book interesting, and even read it twice trying to understand it, but it was just so crushingly academic. The underlying inquiry of Larry being: is that the world you live in, Dude? Jeez


    From a description i found this morning:

    "The author evaluates and discards those features of logical positivism, scientific empiricism, idealism, and vitalism that in his view have encumbered virtually all speculation on tonality."

    Again I say: Jeez

    And an actual question. When we say we tonicize a chord, like proceeding a Dm with A7 in the key C, is the c in tonicize pronounced k or s?
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2021
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  9. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

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    Double WOW... WOW!!!!
     
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  10. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I was ordering at a Chinese take-out place once and the cashier asked "what name?". I said "Ken". She asked if that was with a C or a K?
     
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  11. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Friend of Leo's

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    Sure, sure. But can you not also mix a tonic with vodka or whiskey? Let’s expand our horizons, people.

    Last time I ordered a Dripping Springs and tonic they served it with a lemon instead of a lime! The struggle is real.
     
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  12. ndcaster

    ndcaster Doctor of Teleocity

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    It's helpful and reassuring to know that one or more of these is in fact the same note, thus:
    fretboard-octaves.png
     
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  13. superjam144

    superjam144 Tele-Afflicted

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    Fascinating, thank you.
     
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  14. ndcaster

    ndcaster Doctor of Teleocity

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    definitely s, but you live in America, the land of linguistic freedom
     
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  15. OmegaWoods

    OmegaWoods Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for sharing. I think music theory is confusing in part because there are so many words used to describe the same thing. You say Tonic, I prefer Root or tonal center because those terms are more descriptive and plain to me.

    What would be really helpful is a cheat sheet with all different words used to describe the same concepts in simple language.
     
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  16. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    This post is very "apropo" on a site visited largely by self-taught, popular music players. I've played with a number of pretty good musicians who could not accurately state what key certain songs were in. For example, if a song (that was actually in the key of C) BEGAN on the IV chord, (F) they would say the entire song was in F. The fact that the song ultimately "resolved" and ended on "C" was immaterial. They knew nothing of a chord progression's sharps or flats, or what an "accidental" was. They didn't understand what a "modulation" was or when it occurred in a song. And, I have to say, this "lack of knowledge" had little to do with how well they played the song. Music theory (like we're discussing) is far more pertinent when we're playing from the written music, or "dissecting" or analyzing sections of that written music. Roy Clark once said (and he may have stolen this from someone else) when asked if he could read music, he replied "Not enough to hurt my playing". I would NEVER say that knowing theory or having formal training is "bad", ( I'm proud of all of my musical education, although I've probably forgotten more than I've retained) but it rarely is valuable in a Rock n Roll setting. That's not to say we shouldn't try to learn, or share our knowledge with others.....just don't expect anyone to really appreciate your efforts. You can lead a horse to water.....etc. etc. :):):)
     
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  17. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    Cesar or Caesar.
     
  18. Golden Strat

    Golden Strat TDPRI Member

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    @klasan, Knowing the Tonic location is important because once you know where it is then you know where all the other notes are. It's not that that Tonics are more important in terms of cadence or melody, it helps the player construct phrases on the fly. In other words it assists the player finding the beginning of of the scales. Then one can easily locate that "third" one is looking for, for example.

    Locate the tonic, then land on the "third" or suspended 4th, or anything else one wishes to use in a solo during improvising.
     
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  19. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    That's what I always thought, but I heard someone pronounce some term in a way that caused me mild nagging doubts.
     
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  20. etype

    etype Tele-Afflicted

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    So what is it about the b2 and b5 that they rarely seem to appear in scales (I do know that they do appear in a couple of the modes)? Or is it just a mystery of our Western trained hearing?
     
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